Rick Bentley

Youngest Mouseketeer, Karen Pendleton, turns 70

Mouseketeer Karen Pendleton celebrates her 70th birthday with a party Saturday, July 30 in Fresno.
Mouseketeer Karen Pendleton celebrates her 70th birthday with a party Saturday, July 30 in Fresno. rbentley@fresnobee.com

The Sequoia Brewing Company in north Fresno was the scene of a miniature “Mickey Mouse Club” reunion Saturday, July 30. Johnny Crawford and Sharon Baird were among the family and friends who showed up to help Mouseketeer Karen Pendleton✔ celebrate her 70th birthday.

Her actual birthday wasn’t until Monday, Aug. 1, but any loyal fan of the ’50s TV show could tell you that Mondays are designated as “fun with music” days and not “celebrate birthday” day.

“I don’t feel 70. I don’t act 70. I don’t think I look 70, so I’m telling everybody that I’m 50,” Pendleton says flashing the same smile that captured the heart of Walt Disney 62 years ago.

Pendleton, who has needed a wheelchair since a car accident in 1983, sits at the end of a long table chatting with each guest as they arrive. She’s especially happy to be marking the milestone birthday because in 2011 she faced a serious health issue that took her three years to fight.

But, there are no signs of that illness now.

She shows the same energy that got her a job on the classic TV series. In 1954, Disney was casting a new television show that would feature an ensemble cast of boys and girls. Pendleton’s blond curls and pixie smile landed her on “The Mickey Mouse Club,” and the 8-year-old became a part of television history.

After four years of playing dress-up in front of the cameras as well as singing, dancing and making public appearances, Pendleton found herself back in the real world.

“When the show ended, it was the worst time of my life.”

She was out of show business at age 12 and in public school. Pendleton would go on to study sociology at California State University, Northridge and eventually started working as a high school counselor including a stint at Hoover High School in Fresno.

Of course, Pendleton will forever be linked to “The Mickey Mouse Club.” She’s OK with that because the time she spent working on the TV show was not as much about work as just having fun and getting to play.

Baird, who traveled from Reno for the party, recalls how she and Pendleton had nicknames for each other.

“I called her ‘Puddin’’ and she called me ‘Peaches.’ I called her that because that is what her mother called her,” Baird says.

Crawford, who lives in Sun Valley, was on “The Mickey Mouse Club” for the first season. He performed a series of rope tricks for the party guests, then shared a more personal memory of Pendleton, often his partner on “MMC” musical numbers.

“I had a crush on her. For my 10th birthday my mom arranged for us to have dinner at the Moulin Rouge in Los Angeles. I have a great picture of that,” Crawford says.

Pendleton says the closeness the Mouseketeers continue to feel is why events like the birthday party mean so much to her. “It’s like a big family reunion. When we get together, it’s like we have never been apart.”

What part does Pendleton play in that family? She smiles again and says that she’s “the baby” or “the peacemaker.”

Royal offering

Markus Hill, a Buchanan High School graduate, is the associate producer of the Hallmark Channel movie “My Summer Prince.” It’s scheduled to air on the cable channel at 9 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 6.

An executive assistant who wants to be a public relations executive gets an opportunity to develop her skills in a small town where a scandalous member of the British monarchy has been arrested.

The film stars Taylor Cole, Jack Turner, Lauren Holly, Marina Sirtis, Vanessa Angel, Brian Dare and Kassandra Clementi.

Before moving behind the cameras, Hill was on reality TV shows such as “Bad Girls Club” and “Tanisha Gets Married.” Growing up, Hill appeared in stage productions in junior high and high school along with shows at Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater and at Peoples Church.

Top honors

The Fresno County Public Library’s video project, “Our Lives: Surviving the Streets of Fresno,” has won the California Library Association’s PRExcellence Award. The honor is given to productions of the highest quality among California libraries in promoting and communicating their message to their customers.

“Our Lives,” a 20-minute film that was produced through a grant made possible by the Library Services Technology Act, shows how the homeless are treated.

The production was made by homeless participants with the help of library staff. It aims to increase community awareness of homelessness and encourage wider discussion of the topic.

Other news

Award winner: “The Soul Kitchen,” which airs 2-4 p.m. Saturdays on KFCF (FM 88.1), has been named the station’s top local program of the year by listeners, volunteers and staff.

The program celebrates the roots of R&B plus plays jazz and blues. Kent Stratford, better known as The Blues Doctor, hosts.

You can listen to archived editions of “The Soul Kitchen” by searching for thebluesdoctor at www.mixcloud.com.

On the team: Jason Hurst has been hired at Soft Rock 98.9 to co-host the station’s morning show. He’s teaming with Teri Ann Schlesser for the “Jason and Teri Ann Morning Show” airing 5-10 a.m. weekdays.

Their show launched Monday, Aug. 1.

Rick Bentley: 559-441-6355, @RickBentley1